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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Lucio Fontana
1899 - 1968
CONCETTO SPAZIALE
signed
oil on canvas
73.6 by 60.3 cm. 29 by 23 3/4 in.
Executed in 1966. 
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Provenance

Esselier Collection, Zurich
Simon Dickinson Ltd., London 
Private Collection, Europe (acquired in 2011) 

Exhibited

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Sculptures et Environnements Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 143, no. 66-67 O 3, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti,  Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 493, no. 66-67 O 3, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Milan 2006, Vol. II, p. 684, no. 66-67 O 3, illustrated

Catalogue Note

“I make a hole in a canvas in order to leave behind the old pictorial formulae, the painting and the traditional view of art and I escape, symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface.” 
Lucio Fontana in conversation with Tommaso Trini, 19 July 1968 in: Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1988, p. 34.

A central, void-like crevice ruptures the otherwise smooth and saccharine surface of Lucio Fontana’s vibrant pink painting, Concetto Spaziale. Executed at the height of Fontana’s prolific career in 1966, the work belongs to the artist’s celebrated body of Olii, or oils, which he first experimented with in 1957. By the 1960s, the Olii had come to dominate Fontana’s practice, and he remained dedicated to them until his death in 1968. Characterised by one or more holes, gouged violently out of the depths of his brightly coloured, oil-encrusted canvases, Fontana’s Olii represented the antithesis of his Tagli series: where the Tagli, with their sleek, crisp cuts and minimalist, monochrome surfaces, were devoid of any trace of the artist’s hand, the Olii were thickly painted, vibrant in hue, and charged with a raw and primal intensity.

To create the Olii, Fontana punctured the surface of his paintings using a sharp tool whilst the paint was still wet. He would then claw at the canvas with his fingers, instilling the works with texture and weight, before scraping, scoring and modelling more paint onto the canvas to form projecting mounds of sculptural impasto that erupt from the holes with visceral force. Having initially trained as a sculptor, Fontana never lost the sculptural and spatial impetus that drove his deeply conceptual painterly practice. Nowhere is this better materialised than in the Olii: in Concetto Spaziale, the viewer is presented with a triumphant union of the solid and the void, the tactile and the abstract. Here, the sheer energy of Fontana’s process harnesses an enigmatic combination of compulsion and serenity, beauty and force. The alluring sheen and rosy tint of the oil paint imbues the painting with potent vitality, and immediately the work commands a thrilling juxtaposition between its delicate colouring and the violent perforation inflicted by the artist. Fontana was greatly impacted by the vast scientific and technological advancements that burgeoned during his lifetime, which would culminate in the momentous Space Race of the Twentieth Century. In 1961 the world’s imagination was captured when Yuri Gagarin became the first cosmonaut to venture into the uncharted realms of outer space, soaring above the Earth in orbit. Profoundly influenced by these epoch-defining developments in space exploration, Fontana sought to contend, through the Olii, with both the exhilaration, and existential angst, that this new era proposed. Indeed, the faltering line which orbits the central void in Concetto Spaziale seems to echo Gagarin’s own wavering trajectory into the mysterious, impalpable depths of the universe. 

If the Tagli were composed to celebrate the infinitude of the cosmos, the Olii seem to contemplate the darker undertone of humankind’s venture into the great unknown. Frequently rendered in intense and saturated colours ranging from vivid green to striking pink, the Olii are imbued with an unsettling sense of apprehension and fear: “The colour of the grounds of these canvases is a bit loud,” the artist declared, “[indicating] the restlessness of contemporary Man. The subtle tracing, on the other hand, is the walk of Man in space, his dismay and fear of getting lost; the slash, finally, is a sudden cry of pain, the final gesture of anxiety that has already become unbearable” (Lucio Fontana cited in: Pia Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles 2002, p. 90). As if in emulation of Christ’s wounds on the cross, viscous pigment spills from the central perforation in the present Olii in a poetic evocation of humankind’s search for salvation through sacrifice; yet, with its rich, pink palette, the painting is simultaneously evocative of soft and fleshy skin tones, charging the composition with an alluring sensuality. This is further heightened by the gaping aperture, which might be read as an abstract and contemporary homage to Gustave Corbet’s provocative painting from 1866, L’origine du Monde: indeed, the artist would himself compare his pink Olii in Milanese dialect to “la rose di mutant di don”, or the pink of ladies’ underwear (Ibid., p. 94). Oscillating between sculptural materiality and painterly essence, religion and philosophy, carnal sensuality and scientific rigour, Concetto Spaziale is suffused with notions of rebirth in the age of cosmic exploration.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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